David Thomas (center) with his band mates in Pere Ubu.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Probably no band, with the possible exception of the Velvet Underground, sold so few records during their existence but had such a wide-net influence on future music as Pere Ubu.
Although they remained on the fringe in their original four-year (1975-79) incarnation and never cracked the mainstream, the Cleveland-based band is heralded as the leader and inspiration for multiple styles of music, including punk, post-punk and new wave.
“I’d prefer to sell a lot of records, of course, but you don’t get those choices,” said Pere Ubu’s founder and sole constant member David Thomas in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post
. “At no point along the line do you think in those terms. You think ‘Oh well, this is nice.’ You put out a record and people react very strongly to it and they travel long distances and they end up in your arms crying at the end of the show saying that you changed their life.”
“It’s gratifying,” Thomas continued. “Is it as gratifying as another 20,000 or 30,000 or 50,000 sales? I don’t know.”
Thomas does know that Pere Ubu can travel around the world and find rabid fans, like they will in Israel when the band performs for the first time at Tel Aviv’s Barby Club on September 15.
“There’s always a new generation of fans,” Thomas said. “It varies from city to city... I like it when the older people show up. It means they understood for 40 years what we’re doing. They followed it, they got it. But I also like it when a younger generation is coming along.”
Thomas, an imposing figure, has long been one of the more enigmatic personalities on the rock landscape. His style and avant-garde outlook drove the band’s sound and style – from its off-kilter lyrics and scattershot rhythms to its dissonance and angst, which captured the antithesis of the classic ‘70s good-time rock era and paved the way for punk iconoclasts. Asked one too many times to describe the band’s music, Thomas coined the term “avant-garage.”
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Although their original period of activity ended relatively quickly, Thomas has continued to use the band and its name as his creative vehicle. To date, the band has released 16 studio albums, with 19 former band members and nine current members.
“When you come up with something good you don’t change it,” Thomas said. “People want to know what it is you say, ‘Hey, avant-garage.’”
For that style, Thomas believes there will never be another band like his.
“There is only one Pere Ubu, there will only ever be one Pere Ubu,” Thomas said. “Pere Ubu is the end of rock music... There’s nobody that’s going to follow Pere Ubu, there’s no Pere Ubu that’s going to follow Pere Ubu.”
To Thomas, how people react to his music is not his concern.
“I don’t care,” he said. “It’s not my job. My job is to do exactly what I want. And that’s what I’ve done for 40 years. I do music that I want to do and music that needs to be done.”
In the 40 years that Pere Ubu has been around, the music industry has changed, but according to Thomas, it still runs on the same principle.
“Everyone wants to think it’s vastly different. It isn’t,” he said. “It’s cheesier, its more open to stupidity, but it wasn’t easy then. We didn’t expect anybody would ever hear of us. Some of us might have had dreams, and by that I mean dreams of breaking through. Others of us were on a path and we were gonna follow the path and at a certain time we would go off and do something else. It’s only a matter of one or two months of musicdifference that I’m doing music now.”
For more information about Pere Ubu’s September 15 performance, call the Barby Club at 03-518-8123 or visit www.barby.co.il
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